Before the Central Park Five, there was the Groveland Four.
Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas were wrongfully accused in 1949 of raping 17-year-old white teen, Norma Padgett, in Lake County, Fla. The four maintained their innocence but would not live to see State Attorney William Gladson announce that he had filed a motion to clear their names in court, more than 70 years later.
After filing his motion on Monday, the Orlando Sentinel reports, Gladson said in a statement that the case was “a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.” He claims that the four young men, including Greenlee, who was a teenager at the time, were deprived of their right to due process and a fair trial.
“Given these facts today, no fair-minded prosecutor would even consider filing these charges and no reasonable jury would convict. The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case,” he wrote.
The former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi requested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement review the Groveland Four case in 2018. That review ended in July and with the results, Gladson’s office moved forward with getting justice for the men who were once denied it.
Here’s more about what happened to the Groveland Four, from the Sentinel:
Ernest Thomas was killed shortly after he was accused of the crime in 1949. Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepard were tried and found guilty.
Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison because he was only 16 at the time while Irvin and Shepard were sentenced to death. After they were granted a new trial, Shepard was fatally shot by infamous Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall and Irvin was injured.
Greenlee was paroled in 1962. He died in 2012. Irvin was paroled shortly before his death in 1968.
“These officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families, and a community,” Gladson wrote.
This motion is a long time coming for the Groveland Four’s descendants and supporters. Florida Phoenix reports that state legislators previously issued a resolution in 2017 to apologize to the men for the justice system’s failure. In 2019, The Root reported that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state clemency board also granted them posthumous pardons.
Lake County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Heidi Davis is set to hear the motion and if she approves, the convictions against Greenlee and Irvin, as well as the indictments that Shepard and Thomas never got the chance to fight, will all be dismissed.